VA centers are using tai chi to promote healing and mental clarity - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

VA centers are using tai chi to promote healing and mental clarity

Pan flute music like an old-time kung fu movie drifts serenely through the recreation room of the Milwaukee VA’s Spinal Cord Injury Center. Zibin Guo talks of swaying breezes, mountain streams, and the peaceful but powerful force of nature.

“Still… like a mountain,” he says. “Flow… like water.”

The group follows his every move from their chairs, pivoting wheels as he turns on foot. This new twist on an ancient martial art, Guo says, will play a big role in the modern-day treatment of pain and post-traumatic stress, even cutting down on opioids and other painkillers.

The three-day wheelchair tai chi seminar for health care workers from the Milwaukee and Madison VA Medical Centers; Appleton, Wisconsin, Clinic; and community hospitals, is part of Guo’s nationwide tour to teach more instructors, collect data and prove tai chi works.


Guo, a medical anthropologist from the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, has received more than 0,000 from the Adaptive Sports Grant Program, and has already traveled to 24 VA medical centers. He hopes to get to 24 more by next year.

VA centers are using tai chi to promote healing and mental clarity

Zibin Guo

(YouTube)

The grant program, managed by the National Veterans Sports Program and Special Events Office, provides million annually to support studies and adaptive sports for disabled veterans. Guo said his goal is to promote a way to rethink western rehabilitative medicine, based on bodily functions of eastern philosophy.

“There is a mental clarity that comes from tai chi, which then creates physical benefits for the whole body,” he said.

“For some people,” he added, “this can be psychological. If someone is in a wheelchair, they may see themselves as disabled and are labeled that way. When you are labeled as disabled, you become disabled.

“Wheelchair tai chi transforms the idea of the wheelchair into something else. Now, it’s no longer just for transporting from one place to another. You use it to create power and beauty, integrating the chair movements with tai chi.”

Guo said some VAs have already learned the healing benefits while others are just starting to add tai chi to their repertoire.

“Especially now as VA is building up its Whole Health program nationwide, I hope we are going to see more of these types of offerings,” he said.

Milwaukee was one of the first VAs to offer tai chi. Its polytrauma department started it in 2012 with another grant from the Adaptive Sports Program. Guo’s techniques provided a different perspective, said Dr. Judith Kosasih, lead physician in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

“I knew when we started this seven years ago it was going to be valuable, and I believe in it,” she said. “Right now, we teach tai chi fundamentals, but he gives us a completely different perspective, with more movement, even in a wheelchair.”

Kosasih first started tai chi in Milwaukee, believing it would help with Parkinson’s Disease and pain.

VA centers are using tai chi to promote healing and mental clarity

Zibin Guo leads health care workers through one of his tai chi routines. He first taught the group standing up and then in wheelchairs. Guo believes regular tai chi can significantly help treat post-traumatic stress and reduce the use of painkillers.

“The practice helps you relax, helps you sleep better. When you sleep better, you will feel better,” she said. “I guarantee it improves endurance, balance, memory, and you will be able to stand longer. It gives our veterans skills and empowers them to develop this and get better.”

It’s also a gateway to health for those who can’t afford other sports.

Guo said: “Paralympics and wheelchair rugby and basketball is great but think about how much just one of those chairs costs. The average person doesn’t have a chance. One percent can get the specialized chair and 99 percent can’t. Wheelchair tai chi gives people self-empowerment. You don’t need a special chair.

“There are so many physical benefits,” he added. “A lot of studies have already demonstrated that the nature of the movements is so unique, and the circular motion creates powerful circulation in the body. It’s not just the blood, but the energy, and that treats a wide range of problems without drugs — it treats pain, it treats headaches. There are so many benefits.”

Besides teaching others how to teach the class, he is asking them to compile data to prove his point. He pointed to one veteran in Tennessee, who said she used tai chi to drastically cut down on painkillers.

Zarita Croney, an Afghanistan veteran, suffered from post-traumatic stress, three bulging discs, one eroded disc and intermittent paralysis, plus a host of other issues.

“I had to have a huge purse just for all my meds. You’d look inside and see nothing but pill bottles.” While still in the military, she said she cycled through an array of pain medications. “I’d have to lay in bed for three hours, just waiting for the medicine to work,” she said.

Croney spiraled into depression until she reached out to the Tennessee Valley Health Care System for mental health. Her VA recommended recreation therapy, including the tai chi Guo promotes.

Mind and Machine

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“The first time in tai chi, they had to wheel me there in a wheelchair,” she said. “The first few visits, I couldn’t get through the whole class. Then I start getting more range of motion. My instructor said, ‘Even if you can’t do it, see yourself doing it in your mind.’ And as you go along, your body does catch up with what the mind is doing.

“I went from visiting the emergency room at least once a month to get shot up with morphine, to walking with a cane, and sometimes without the cane. I’ve cut out about three-fourths of the pills I was on,” she said. “With all these things, it’s a battle every day, but tai chi gave me the foundation.”

Guo says this is nothing new to him.

“Pain symptoms are very complex and not just physical. The symptoms of stress, tension, or anger and bad emotions, that creates chemicals in the brain that stimulate pain,” he said. “Tai chi not only relaxes, it promotes healing.”

Leanne Young, a recreation therapist from the San Francisco VA Health Care System, said she is excited to see tai chi and other eastern philosophies gain more acceptance, because it plays into what she and other therapists have been doing for years.

“This is definitely time for this,” she said. “I think most people want to see evidence-based practice and data. They want to see research. Many things recreation therapists have done — not just tai chi, but in general — hasn’t always been recognized because there isn’t always research that supports the benefits.

“I really feel tai chi is a whole mind-body thing, and that really works. Your brain ends up telling your body what to do. It’s mindfulness, and to me, it’s a state of mind which affects your body and your pain reduction.”

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Hackers are trying to bring down entire countries, and it’s a matter of time

Gatwick Airport is Britain’s second busiest by passenger volume, and Europe’s eighth. And yet it was brought to a standstill for two days by two people and a single drone.

Its vulnerability reminded me of a conversation I had two years ago, at the Web Summit conference in Lisbon with cybersecurity investor Sergey Gribov of Flint Capital. He was talking up one of his investments, an industrial cybersecurity firm based in Israel called CyberX. Half-bored, I girded myself for his pitch. They usually go like this: “The internet is full of hackers! They want to steal your data and your money! If only companies used my company’s awesome product, we would all be safe!”


I have heard hundreds of pitches like this.

But my conversation with Gribov was different. It was … extreme. The criminals who break into the web sites of banks or chainstores and steal personal data or money are not the scariest people out there, he told me. The hackers we really ought to be worrying about are the ones trying to take entire countries offline. People who are trying to take down the internet, switch the lights off, cut the water supply, disable railways, or blow up factories.

VA centers are using tai chi to promote healing and mental clarity

(Flickr photo by Richard Patterson)

The West’s weakness is in the older electronics and sensors that control processes in infrastructure and industry. Often these electronics were installed decades ago. The security systems controlling them are ancient or non-existent. If a hacker can gain control of a temperature sensor in a factory, he — they’re usually men — can blow the place up, or set it on fire. “The problem people don’t realise is it becomes a weapon of mass destruction. You can take down a whole country. It can be done,” he said.

And then, how do you respond? Does the country that was attacked — the one struggling to get its power grid back online — launch nukes? Probably not, he said, because “you have no idea who did it.”

“You can have a team of five people sitting in a basement and be just as devastating as WMDs,” he said. “It’s really scary. In some sense it’s a matter of time because it’s really easy.”

At the time, I discounted my conversation with Gribov. His VC fund was invested in CyberX, so he had an obvious interest in propagating the idea that the world is full of bad guys.

But in the years since we talked, two unnerving things happened.

VA centers are using tai chi to promote healing and mental clarity

The scope of the 2016 internet outage after the attack on Dyn.

(Wikimedia, CC)

“Someone is learning how to take down the Internet,” Bruce Schneier, the CTO of IBM Resilient believes

Both attacks were conducted by relatively unsophisticated actors. The Dyn attack was done by three young men who had created some software that they merely hoped would disable a competitor’s company, until it got out of control. The Mauritania attack was probably done by the government of neighbouring Sierra Leone, which was trying to manipulate local election results by crippling the media.

Apparently, it is possible to take the world offline.

It’s not merely that “someone” out there is trying to figure out how to take down the internet. There are multiple someones out there who want that power. In June 2018, Atlanta’s city government was hobbled by an attack that wiped out a third of its software programs. The FBI told Business Insider earlier this year that it believed terrorists would eventually attempt to take America’s 911 emergency system offline.

Someone is learning how to take down the Internet,” Bruce Schneier, the CTO of IBM Resilient believes.

Three major power suppliers simultaneously taken over by hackers

Next, I talked to Nir Giller, cofounder and CTO of CyberX. He pointed me to the December 2015 blackout in Ukraine, in which three major power suppliers were simultaneously taken over by hackers. The hackers gained remote control of the stations’ dashboards, and manually switched off about 60 substations, leaving 230,000 Ukrainians in the cold and dark for six straight hours.

The hack was almost certainly done by Russia, whose military had invaded Crimea in the south of the country in 2014.

“It’s a new weapon,” Giller says. “It wasn’t an accident. It was a sophisticated, well-coordinated attack.”

The fact that the hackers targeted a power station was telling. The biggest vulnerabilities in Western infrastructure are older facilities, Giller believes. Factories, energy plants, and water companies all operate using machinery that is often very old. New devices and software are installed alongside the older machinery, often to control or monitor it. This is what the industrial “internet of things” looks like. Hackers don’t need to control an entire plant, the way they did in Ukraine. They only need to control an individual sensor on a single machine. “In the best-case scenario you have to get rid of a batch” of product, Giller says. “In the worst case, it’s medicine that is not supervised or produced correctly.”

CyberX has done work for the Carlsbad Desalination Plant in California. It claims to be the largest seawater desalination plant in the US. And it serves an area prone to annual droughts. Giller declined to say exactly how CyberX protects the plant but the implication of the company’s work is clear — before CyberX showed up, it was pretty easy to shut down the water supply to about 400,000 people in San Diego.

2010 was the year that cybersecurity experts really woke up to the idea that you could take down infrastructure, not just individual companies or web sites. That was the year the Stuxnet virus was deployed to take down the Iranian nuclear program.

“Stuxnet in 2010 was groundbreaking”

The principle behind Stuxnet was simple: Like all software viruses, it copied and sent itself to as many computers running Microsoft Windows as it possibly could, invisibly infecting hundreds of thousands of operating systems worldwide. Once installed, Stuxnet looked for Siemens Step7 industrial software. If it found some, Stuxnet then asked itself a question: “Is this software operating a centrifuge that spins at the exact frequency of an Iranian nuclear power plant that is enriching uranium to create nuclear weapons?” If the answer was “yes,” Stuxnet changed the data coming from the centrifuges, giving their operators false information. The centrifuges stopped working properly. And one-fifth of the Iranian nuclear program’s enrichment facilities were ruined.

VA centers are using tai chi to promote healing and mental clarity

Anti-aircraft guns guarding Natanz Nuclear Facility, Iran.

“Stuxnet in 2010 was groundbreaking,” Giller says.

Groundbreaking, but extremely sophisticated. Some experts believe that the designers of Stuxnet would need access to Microsoft’s original source code — something that only a government like the US or Israel could command.

Russia is another state actor that is growing its anti-infrastructure resources. In April 2017 the US FBI and the British security services warned that Russia had seeded UK wifi routers — the little boxes that serve wireless internet in your living room — with a hack that can read all the internet traffic going through them. It’s not that Vladimir Putin wants to see what you’re looking at on Pornhub. Rather, “What they’re doing there is building capability,” says Andrew Tsonchev, the director of technology at Darktrace Industrial, a London-based cybersecurity firm that specialises in artificially intelligent, proactive security. “They’re building that and investing in that so they can launch attacks from it across the world if and when they need to.”

A simple extortion device disabled Britain’s largest employer in an afternoon

Then, in 2017, the Wannacry virus attack happened. Like Stuxnet, Wannacry also spread itself through the Microsoft Windows ecosystem. Once activated, it locked up a user’s computer and demanded a ransom in bitcoin if the user wanted their data back. It was intended as a way to extort money from people at scale. The Wannacry malware was too successful, however. It affected so many computers at once that it drew attention to itself, and was quickly disabled by a security researcher (who ironically was later accused of being the creator of yet another type of malware).

During its brief life, Wannacry became most infamous for disabling hundreds of computers used by Britain’s National Health Service, and was at one point a serious threat to the UK’s ability to deliver healthcare in some hospitals.

The fact that a simple extortion device could disable Britain’s largest employer in an afternoon did not go unnoticed. Previously, something like Stuxnet needed the sophistication of a nation-state. But Wannacry looked like something you could create in your bedroom.

VA centers are using tai chi to promote healing and mental clarity

A screenshot shows a WannaCry ransomware demand.

Tsonchev told Business Insider that Wannacry changed the culture among serious black-hat hackers.

“It managed to swoop across, and burn down huge sectors in different countries for a bit,” he says. “In the course of that, the shipping industry got hit. We had people like Maersk, and other shipping terminals and operators, they went down for a day or two. What happened is the ransomware managed to get into these port terminals and the harbours that control shipping … that intrigued attackers to realise that was something they could deliberately try and do that wasn’t really in their playbook at that point.”

“Oh look, we can actually start to do things like take down manufacturing plants and affect the global shipping industry”

“So this year, we see follow-on attacks specifically targeting shipping terminals and ports. They hit the Port of Barcelona and the Port of San Diego and others. That seemed to follow the methodology of the lessons learned the previous year. ‘Oh look, we can actually start to do things like take down manufacturing plants and affect the global shipping industry.’ A couple years ago they were just thinking about stealing credit card data.”

Another scary thing? The Wannacry attack was in May 2017. By December 2017, the US government confirmed that the North Korean government was responsible for the attack. The North Koreans probably just wanted money. The hermit-communist state is chronically poor.

But it may have taught North Korea something more useful: You don’t need bombs to bring a nation to its knees.

Oddly, you have a role to play in making sure this doesn’t happen. The reason Russia and North Korea and Israel and the US all got such devastating results in their attacks on foreign infrastructure is because ordinary people are bad at updating the security software on their personal computers. People let their security software get old and vulnerable, and then weeks later they’re hosting Stuxnet or Wannacry or Russia’s wifi listening posts.

National security is, somehow, about “the absurdity of the mundane,” says Tsonchev. “These little annoying popups [on your computer] are actually holding the key to national security and people are just ignoring them. Individuals have a small part to play in keeping the whole country safe.”

So if you’re casting about for a New Year’s resolution right now, consider this one: Resolve to keep your phone and laptop up to date with system security software. Your country needs you.

Featured image by Ivan David Gomez Arce.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina

Every few months, several North Carolina counties host a unique special-operations event.

Robin Sage is a four-week exercise that all Special Forces candidates must pass before they graduate and don the coveted Green Beret.

Named after Col. Jerry Michael Sage, an Office of Strategic Services (OSS) operative who was captured by the Nazis and attempted to escape more than 12 times before succeeding, Robin Sage is the culminating exercise of the Special Forces pipeline.

VA centers are using tai chi to promote healing and mental clarity
Special Forces candidates listen to a briefing during the final phase of field training known as Robin Sage in central North Carolina, July 9, 2019. 

It takes place in the fictional country of Pineland, which spans about 50,000 square miles in the woods of North Carolina.

The Army’s Special Forces, known as Green Berets, mainly specialize in training and supporting foreign forces, counterterrorism, and reconnaissance, as well as carrying out its own small-scale raids and ambushes.

Green Berets operate in 12-man detachments and work with and through partner forces. They receive extensive cultural and linguistic training that enables them to operate anywhere in the world.

But it is during Robin Sage that they get their first real taste of what Special Forces does.

The road to Robin Sage

VA centers are using tai chi to promote healing and mental clarity
A Special Forces candidate leads mules to a staging area to be loaded with rucksacks for a long-distance movement during the final phase of field training known as Robin Sage in central North Carolina, June 7, 2020. 

To make it to Robin Sage, prospective Green Berets must first pass the Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS), a 21-day course that pushes candidates to their physical and mental limits.

Those who successfully complete SFAS move on to the Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC), or Q Course.

There have been almost 30 different versions of Q Course during its nearly 60-year history. Until recently, it was close to two years long. However, the course was revamped in 2019 and now lasts about six months. It is broken into four major phases: Small Unit Tactics, Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE), Military Occupational Specialty training, and Robin Sage.

After several months of training, students come together for Robin Sage and work as a team using the different skills they have learned.

Free Pineland!

VA centers are using tai chi to promote healing and mental clarity
Special Forces candidates School meet with role players acting as village leaders during the final phase of field training known as Robin Sage in central North Carolina, July 9, 2019. 

In the fictional scenario of Robin Sage, Special Forces candidates must help a guerrilla force, which is usually led by retired Green Berets, overthrow the illegitimate government of Pineland.

“Today, we read a lot about proxy warfare, and that is what Robin Sage is in a nutshell,” Steve Balestrieri, a retired Special Forces warrant officer who also served as an instructor for the course, told Insider.

“The Special Forces candidates have to meet up with and make rapport with a third-world nation guerrilla force, train them up, and then work by, with, and through that guerrilla force to conduct combat operations against a numerically superior enemy occupying force,” Balestrieri said.

During Robin Sage, students are tested on what they have learned in Q Course. They teach their partner force small-unit tactics, provide medical care, build outposts, and establish communications with headquarters.

They also conduct reconnaissance, raids, ambushes, and numerous other missions and are tested on other challenges they might encounter on the battlefield.

For example, teams are often presented with war-crime scenarios, where their partner force wants to “execute” a prisoner or “destroy” a village. It falls on the team to successfully negotiate those delicate situations without losing the support of their allies or violating the laws of war.

VA centers are using tai chi to promote healing and mental clarity
Special Forces candidates move a simulated casualty during the evaluation and final phase of field training known as Robin Sage in central North Carolina, July 11, 2019. 

It’s the ever-important human element that makes Robin Sage special. The social interactions between the team and the “guerrillas” might mean mission success or failure on the battlefield.

“Our Robin Sage [infiltration] was supposed to be brutal, our rucks weighing more than 100 pounds each,” John Black, a retired Green Beret, told Insider.

“We had packed everything in preparation for more than two weeks in the field with no resupply. Two Blackhawk choppers dropped us off behind enemy lines where we were to meet our partner force in the middle of the night,” Black said. “We walked and walked with this guy for hours in what seemed like a circle — he was lost. The captain asked to help him navigate with the map. Turned out we had been circling the camp for hours and the solution was simple — ask if he needed help.”

Perhaps the most important aspect of Robin Sage is the hands-on lesson it provides to future operators about the main mission of Special Forces, which is unconventional warfare — activities that help a resistance movement or insurgent force take on a bigger power.

“As a Green Beret, I feel Robin Sage is imperative and really gets you to think about the real mission of Special Forces, to work with and through a partner force,” Black added. “Very little of what a Green Beret does is kicking in doors and getting bad guys. Robin Sage definitely helped prepare me for life as an operator on a team.”

VA centers are using tai chi to promote healing and mental clarity
A Special Forces candidate crosses a water obstacle during the final phase of field training known as Robin Sage in central North Carolina, July 9, 2019. 

“What makes Robin Special is how well and smoothly it’s run from the time the student teams go into isolation until they [infiltrate] and are actively engaged with the G-Force,” Balestrieri said, referring to the guerrilla force.

“It rams home how important is, when operating in a guerrilla warfare/unconventional warfare environment, to at least have the nominal support of the population,” Balestrieri added.

Robin Sage is so realistic that a few years ago, a student was killed and another wounded by a police officer who wasn’t aware of the event and thought that they were robbers. Since then, before every Robin Sage begins, local communities are thoroughly notified.

The exercise and its lessons largely are what differentiate Green Berets from other US special-operations units.

“Robin Sage is tremendously important in the career of every Special Forces soldier, because it takes everything that you’ve been taught thus far in the SFQC and gears it toward SF’s true mission, which is unconventional warfare,” Balestrieri said.

As the US prepares for a renewed era of great-power competition with China and Russia, and as irregular warfare becomes increasingly important, Robin Sage is more relevant than ever.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

How the Army is revolutionizing night time target identification

Innovation isn’t just a matter of creating something new. Rather, it’s the process of translating an idea into goods or services that will create value for an end user. As such, innovation requires three key ingredients: the need (or, in defense acquisition terms, the requirement of the customer); people competent in the required technology; and supporting resources. The Catch-22 is that all three of these ingredients need to be present for innovation success, but each one often depends on the existence of the others.


Also read: The Army is really amping up its laser weapon technology

This can be challenging for the government, where it tends to be difficult to find funding for innovative ideas when there are no perceived requirements to be fulfilled. With transformational ideas, the need is often not fully realized until after the innovation; people did not realize they “needed” a smartphone until after the iPhone was produced. For this reason, revolutionary innovations within the DoD struggle to fully mature without concerted and focused efforts from all of the defense communities: research, requirements, transition, and acquisition.

Despite these challenges, the Army has demonstrated its ability to generate successful innovative programs throughout the years. A prime example is the recently-completed Third Generation Forward Looking Infrared (3rd Gen FLIR) program.

VA centers are using tai chi to promote healing and mental clarity
The 3rd Gen FLIR products seen here are examples of a new and innovative program from the research community making the sometimes treacherous transition into field use.

The first implementation of FLIR gave the Army a limited ability to detect objects on the battlefield at night. Users were able to see “glowing, moving blobs” that stood out in contrast to the background. Although detectable, these blobs were often challenging to identify. In cluttered, complex environments, distinguishing non-moving objects from the background could be difficult.

These first-generation systems were large and slow and provided low-resolution images not suitable for long-range target identification. In many ways, they were like the boom box music players that existed before the iPhone: They played music, but they could support only one function, had a limited capacity, took up a lot of space, required significant power and were not very portable. Third Gen FLIR was developed based on the idea that greater speed, precision, and range in the targeting process could unlock the full potential of infrared imaging and would provide a transformative capability, like the iPhone, that would have cascading positive effects across the entire military well into the future.

Related: The Army has new drones that can strike deep behind enemy lines

Because speed, precision, and accuracy are critical components for platform lethality, 3rd Gen FLIR provides a significant operational performance advantage over the previous FLIR sensor systems. With 3rd Gen FLIR, the Army moved away from a single band (which uses only a portion of the light spectrum) to a multiband infrared imaging system, which is able to select the optimal portion of the light spectrum for identifying a variety of different targets.

VA centers are using tai chi to promote healing and mental clarity
U.S. Soldiers as seen through night vision.

The Army integrated this new sensor with computer software (signal processing) to automatically enhance these FLIR images and video in real time with no complicated setup or training required (similar to how the iPhone automatically adjusts for various lighting conditions to create the best image possible). 3rd Gen FLIR combines all of these features along with multiple fields of view (similar to having multiple camera lenses that change on demand) to provide significantly improved detection ranges and a reduction in false alarms when compared with previous FLIR sensor systems.

Read more: Why the Army needs to speed up its future weapons programs

Using its wider fields of view and increased resolution, 3rd Gen FLIR allows the military to conduct rapid area search. This capability has proven to be invaluable in distinguishing combatants from noncombatants and reducing collateral damage. Having all of these elements within a single sensor allows warfighters to optimize their equipment for the prevailing battlefield conditions, greatly enhancing mission effectiveness and survivability. Current and future air and ground-based systems alike benefit from the new FLIR sensors, by enabling the military to purchase a single sensor that can be used across multiple platforms and for a variety of missions. This provides significant cost savings for the military by reducing the number of different systems it has to buy, maintain and sustain.

MIGHTY SPORTS

Competing in pain, Navy veteran captures medals in Golden Age Games

Navy Veteran Angela Walker is competing in the National Veterans Golden Age Games for the third time. She’s in five activities in the ongoing VA sports event in Anchorage, Alaska.

At the same time, Walker admits that participating in the Golden Age Games isn’t easy. She’s been in a wheelchair for six years and has chronic pain throughout her body. Even a sport like archery, where one has to pull the bow and hold the arrow, triggers pain from her naval down, she says.

Yet, she perseveres, knowing there’s a therapeutic component to the games. One of the best things about the games is that “you learn how to turn off the pain a little bit and dial it down while you’re competing,” as she put it.


“I’m never without pain,” Walker says. “I can’t remember the last time I haven’t had pain all day. (It) makes it really challenging to play. But you have to push through in order to play. You might see the tears coming down. But I don’t like to quit unless I absolutely have to. It happens with every sport. So it’s kind of like, should I go to the games or not go to the games? I want to win, and I want to play, and I don’t want to quit.”

VA centers are using tai chi to promote healing and mental clarity

Angela Walker competes in horseshoes at the 2019 National Golden Age Games.

She finds it encouraging and inspiring to be among other veterans who are in wheelchairs. She’s competing in the wheelchair division of air rifle, horseshoes, boccia, bowling and shuffleboard.

“I’m motivated because everybody is doing their best using whatever skills and strength they have to win and to have a good time,” she says. “We’re all aware of what’s going on with our bodies. But doing my first Golden Age Games [in 2017] just let me know that, `Hey, you don’t have to just sit at home. You can do other things.’ So I’m taking my body to the limit in trying to do all of these different sports.”

Her determination is paying off. Competing in the 60 to 64 age category at this year’s games, she’s thus far won gold medals in boccia and horseshoes. She also earned three medals at both the 2017 Golden Age Games in Biloxi, Mississippi, and at the 2018 Golden Age Games in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Walker’s success at the 2018 games qualified her for the National Senior Games in Albuquerque from June 14 to June 25. The foundation for the games selected her to receive the Hurford Memorial Award that provides some financial assistance to attend. In the nationwide event, she’ll test her skills in the wheelchair division of bowling and horseshoes.

If not for a chance encounter with another veteran who competes in wheelchair sports, Marine Corps Veteran Johnny Baylark, Walker may not be competing. The two met several years ago at Naval Station Great Lakes outside of Chicago. Baylark encouraged Walker to come out for the VA sports event.

Johnny Baylark: More than a Miracle

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“I was looking for a parking space, I thought he was getting out, and I was going to take his space,” Walker remembers. “We both left our vehicles. He approached me and said, `Hey, you’re in a wheelchair. You should do bowling.’ I was like, `Bowling, I don’t know about bowling.’ But it made me think. So I talked to my doctor and he agreed that I should get involved.”

Walker has since tried to influence other veterans to take part in the National Veterans Golden Age Games. She volunteers as a motivational speaker and sings regularly at the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Center in Illinois and at veterans’ organizations, such as the American Legion. An accomplished singer, Walker has won gold medals at the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival Competition, another VA-sponsored event.

In front of a waving Red, White, and Blue, she gracefully sang the “The Star Spangled Banner” before the start of June 7, 2019’s horseshoe event. At one point, Daniel Dela Cruz, coordinator of the horseshoe competition, remarked to Walker that “this is harder than it looks. It’s not easy.”

Walker knows all about that. But it seems that nothing will derail her drive to compete.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

How this new Russian doomsday device can create huge tidal waves

During Vladimir Putin’s address to the Russian Federal Assembly on March 1, 2018, he described a plethora of nuclear weapons Russia is developing.

One of these proposed weapons — an autonomous submarine — stood out among the depictions of falling warheads and nuclear-powered cruise missiles.


The autonomous drone would quietly travel to “great depths,” move faster than a submarine or boat, “have hardly any vulnerabilities for the enemy to exploit,” and “carry massive nuclear ordnance,” Putin said, according to a Kremlin translation of his remarks (PDF).

“It is really fantastic. […] There is simply nothing in the world capable of withstanding them,” he said, claiming Russia tested a nuclear-powered engine for the drones in December 2017. “Unmanned underwater vehicles can carry either conventional or nuclear warheads, which enables them to engage various targets, including aircraft groups, coastal fortifications and infrastructure.

“Putin did not refer to the device by name in his speech, but it appears to be the “oceanic multi-purpose Status-6 system” — also known as Kanyon or “Putin’s doomsday machine.”

The Russian government reportedly leaked a diagram of that weapon in 2015, which suggests it’d carry a 50-megaton nuclear bomb about as powerful as Tsar Bomba, the largest nuclear device ever detonated.

VA centers are using tai chi to promote healing and mental clarity

Nuclear physicists say such a weapon could cause a large local tsunami, though they question its purpose and effectiveness, given the far-more-terrible destruction that nukes can inflict when detonated above-ground.

Why Putin’s ‘doomsday machine’ could be terrifying

A nuclear weapon detonated below the ocean’s surface can cause great devastation.

The underwater US nuclear weapons tests of the 1940s and 1950s — including operations “Crossroads Baker” and “Hardtack I Wahoo” — demonstrated why.

These underwater fireballs were roughly as energetic as the bombs dropped on Hiroshima or Nagasaki in August 1945. In the tests, they burst through the surface, ejecting pillars of seawater more than a mile high while rippling out powerful shockwaves.

Some warships staged near the explosions were vaporized. Others were tossed like toys in a bathtub and sank, or sustained cracked hulls, crippled engines, and other damage. Notably, the explosions roughly doubled the height of waves to nearby islands, flooding inland areas.


“A well-placed nuclear weapon of yield in the range 20 MT to 50 MT near a seacoast could certainly couple enough energy to equal the 2011 tsunami, and perhaps much more,” Rex Richardson, a physicist and nuclear-weapons researcher, told Business Insider. The 2011 event he’s referring to is the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 15,000 people in Japan.

“Taking advantage of the rising-sea-floor amplification effect, tsunami waves reaching 100 meters [328 feet] in height are possible,” Richardson said.

Richardson and other experts have also pointed out that a near-shore blast from this type of weapon could suck up tons of ocean sediment, irradiate it, and rain it upon nearby areas — generating catastrophic radioactive fallout.

“Los Angeles or San Diego would be particularly vulnerable to fallout due to the prevailing on-shore winds,” Richardson wrote, adding that he lives in San Diego.

The problem with blowing up nukes underwater

Greg Spriggs, a nuclear-weapons physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, acknowledges that a 50-megaton weapon “could possibly induce a tsunami” and hit a shoreline with the energy equivalent to a 650-kiloton blast.

But he thinks “it would be a stupid waste of a perfectly good nuclear weapon.”

That’s because Sprigg believes it’s unlikely that even the most powerful nuclear bombs could unleash a significant tsunami after being detonated underwater.

“The energy in a large nuclear weapon is but a drop in the bucket compared to the energy of a [naturally] occurring tsunami,” Spriggs previously told Business Insider. “So, any tsunami created by a nuclear weapon couldn’t be very large.”

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(Brookings Institution; Madnessgenius )

For example, the 2011 tsunami in Japan released about 9,320,000 megatons (MT) of TNT energy. That’s hundreds of millions of times more than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, and roughly 163,000 times greater than the Soviet Union’s test of Tsar Bomba on October 30, 1961.

Plus, Spriggs added, the energy of a blast wouldn’t all be directed toward shore — it’d radiate outward in all directions, so most of it “would be wasted going back out to sea.”

A detonation several miles from a coastline would deposit only about 1% of its energy as waves hitting the shore. That scenario may be more likely than an attack closer to the shore, assuming a US weapons-detection systems could detect an incoming Status-6 torpedo.

But even on the doorstep of a coastal city or base, Spriggs questions the purpose.

“This would produce a fraction of the damage the same 50 MT weapon could do if it were detonated above a large city,” Spriggs said. “If there is some country out there that is angry enough at the United States to use a nuclear weapon against us, why would they opt to reduce the amount of damage they impose in an attack?”

Is the Doomsday weapon real?

Putin fell short of confirming that Status-6 exists, though he did say the December 2017 tests of its power unit “enabled us to begin developing a new type of strategic weapon” to carry a huge nuclear bomb.

The Trump administration even addressed the weapon’s possible existence in its 2018 nuclear posture review.

In a 2015 article in Foreign Policy, Jeffrey Lewis — a nuclear-policy expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies — dubbed the weapon “Putin’s doomsday machine.”

He wrote that in part because of speculation that the underwater weapon might be “salted,” or surrounded with metals like cobalt. That would dramatically extend fatal radiation levels from fallout (possibly for years or even decades), since the burst of neutrons emitted in a nuclear blast could transform those metals into long-lived, highly radioactive chemicals that sprinkle all around.

“What sort of sick bastards dream up this kind of weapon?” Lewis wrote, noting that such “salted” weapons are featured in the Cold War parody and science-fiction movie “Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.”

In Lewis’s eyes, it doesn’t necessarily matter if Status-6 is real or a psychological bluff designed to prevent the US from attacking Russia or its allies.

“Simply announcing to the world that you find this to be a reasonable approach to deterrence should be enough to mark you out as a dangerous creep,” he said.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Articles

Here’s Osama bin Laden’s letter to the American people

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Osama bin Laden’s undated letter to the American people is one of 113 documents declassified by the Director of National Intelligence on Tuesday.

The letter, seized in the May 2, 2011, raid on bin Laden’s Abbottabad hideout, begins: “To the American people, peace be upon those who follow the righteous track.”

The document is part of a second batch translated and released by U.S. intelligence agencies.

The first set of papers was declassified in May 2015.

In the four-page letter, bin Laden writes:

The way for change and freeing yourselves from the pressure of lobbyists is not through the Republican or the Democratic parties, but through undertaking a great revolution for freedom … It does not only include improvement of your economic situation and ensure your security, but more importantly, helps him in making a rational decision to save humanity from the harmful [greenhouse] gases that threaten its destiny.

Read the full document below:

To the American People

Articles

US military is planning its long-term presence in Afghanistan

The Pentagon will send a proposal to the White House in early May laying out America’s long-term presence in Afghanistan, senior defense officials said May 4. The plan will likely include a request for more U.S. troops.


U.S. military officials have said they need greater forces to meet the growing training and advising mission in Afghanistan, where local forces are fighting a Taliban insurgency. And there is a new push for NATO members to step up their commitments of troops and other resources to help the country in its struggle for stability.

Theresa Whelan, who is currently working as the Pentagon’s assistant defense secretary for special operations, told senators the new plan likely will go to the White House next week.

VA centers are using tai chi to promote healing and mental clarity
U.S. Soldiers conduct a patrol with Afghan National Army soldiers to check on conditions in a village in the Wardak province of Afghanistan Feb. 17, 2010. (DoD photo by Sgt. Russell Gilchrest, U.S. Army)

“We are actually actively looking at adjustments to the approach in Afghanistan right now,” Whelan told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “The interest is to move beyond the stalemate and also to recognize that Afghanistan is a very important partner for the United States in a very tricky region.”

The move comes as the U.S. is in talks with Iraqi leaders over plans to keep an enduring American presence there also. That effort is rooted in the need to continue training Iraqi forces and ensure that Islamic State militants don’t regain a foothold.

Gen. John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and other senior military leaders have repeatedly described the fight in Afghanistan as a stalemate. Officials have said they need more trainers and advisers to increase the capabilities of Afghan forces.

Also read: 600 Fort Bliss soldiers prepare to deploy to Afghanistan and Iraq

But the United States doesn’t want to carry the burden by itself.

A senior NATO official said the U.S. has sent letters to allies asking them to increase their commitments. The official was not authorized to discuss the letters publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Appearing with Whelan, Gen. Raymond Thomas, head of U.S. Special Operations Command, told the Senate panel he has enough forces for the military’s counterterrorism mission in Afghanistan, which is targeting Islamic State, al-Qaida and Taliban militants.

Thomas said a critical factor in ongoing discussions about a new Afghanistan strategy is the need for an enduring U.S. presence in the country. The new plan would set the parameters for how that could look.

MIGHTY TRENDING

How the US could take down North Korea without firing a shot

Dennis Blair, a former director of national intelligence, on Jan. 30, defined what he called North Korea’s “kryptonite,” saying it could collapse Kim Jong Un’s government without firing a shot.


While President Donald Trump’s inner circle reportedly weighs the use of military force against North Korea, Blair, a former U.S. Navy Admiral, has suggested another method of attack that wields information, not weapons.

“The kryptonite that can weaken North Korea is information from beyond its borders,” Blair said in a written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

VA centers are using tai chi to promote healing and mental clarity
Kim Jong Un New Years speech (Image KCNA)

North Koreans have no idea how bad things are in their country, Blair said, because they’re subject to an “unrelenting barrage of government propaganda.”

North Korean citizens caught with South Korean media can be sentenced to death or sent to horrific prison camps, as control of the media and intolerance for different narratives are pillars of North Korea’s government.

But Blair said the U.S. could leverage a recent trend in North Korea: cellphones.

About one in five North Koreans own a cellphone, many of which can connect to Chinese cell towers across the Yalu River along the countries’ border, he said.

Also Read: The US is ready to hit North Korea with tactical nukes

“Texts to these cellphones can provide subversive truth,” Blair said. “Cell towers can be extended; CDs and thumb drives can be smuggled in; radio and TV stations can be beamed there.”

Blair added: “The objective is to separate the Kim family from its primary support — the secret police, the army, and the propaganda ministry.”

Though outside media does get into North Korea and reaches the country’s elites, the U.S. could expand efforts to flood it with outside news. The U.S. used a similar tactic during the Cold War in setting up Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty to combat the Soviet Union and its state-controlled media.

Yun Sun, a North Korea expert at the Stimson Center, told Business Insider last year that a similar idea floated by a former U.S. Navy SEAL had legs.

“Kim Jong Un understands that as soon as society is open and North Korean people realize what they’re missing, Kim’s regime is unsustainable, and it’s going to be overthrown,” Sun said.

VA centers are using tai chi to promote healing and mental clarity
Kim Jong Un waves at North Korean soldiers. (Image KCNA)

Sun said that in the past when South Korea flew balloons that dropped pamphlets and DVDs over North Korea, Kim’s government responded militarily, sensing its frailty relative to those of prosperous liberal democracies.

Blair pointed to other totalitarian states where popular uprisings have become informed and sought to take down a media-controlling dictator, concluding his testimony by saying that “once that process starts, it is hard to stop.”

“Such will be North Korea’s fate,” he said.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is the Air Force vet who will kick off USAA’s free music festival

Miami-based DJ and Air Force veteran Rodrigo Arana – AKA DJ KA5 – is cooking up something special for his featured guest appearance in the USAA Lounge at BaseFEST this weekend. But don’t expect him to just cue up a list of Top 40 hits and fire them off, one after another. He approaches deejaying the way a trained specialist approaches a mission: he plans, he prepares, he drills, and then, when he’s got you captive on the dance floor, he executes.

Result: the beat drops and you lose your mind.


“I’m always about bringing those vibes that are taking you back to that certain time that was good for you [and] I’m always about trying to perfect my craft. That’s something that the military taught me: you can always do better.”

BaseFEST Powered by USAA kicked off in 2017 with two huge festival dates at Camp Lejune and NAS Pensacola, gathering over 20,000+ fans for each and creating a fun atmosphere of appreciation and support for servicemembers, their families, and friends.

VA centers are using tai chi to promote healing and mental clarity
Miami-based DJ and Air Force veteran Rodrigo Arana u2013 also known asu00a0DJ KA5.
(Photo by USAA)

The mission of the festival is “to provide a platform to give back to family programs on base, boost morale for troops and their families, and build strong base communities that are the backbone of our military.” Musical acts like DNCE, Dustin Lynch, Ha Ha Tonka, and DJ KA5 provide a live and lively soundtrack to a wide variety of activities, games, exhibits, and dining.

This year, BaseFEST is back with four dates announced, starting with Fort Bliss, TX on May 12th.

For Arana, playing BaseFEST is a chance to reconnect with his veteran family, to celebrate the military education that helped set him on the path to doing what he loves.

“Deejaying is about creating a vibe and creating a feeling. You’re painting. A different song is a different color and you’re creating a masterpiece. So by the end of the night, you step back and you look at the whole paining and you realize how you did this for somebody else.”
MIGHTY CULTURE

Veterans Affairs chaplain addresses holiday stress in sermon

Excerpts from a sermon by Chaplain Jonathan Landon, Eugene VA Health Care Center.

I’ve known for a long time that some men and women really don’t enjoy the holiday season. In recent years I’ve had encounters that really brought home to me how many people there are in this situation, and how deep is their pain.

I’ve been convicted that we – the VA – and we – the community of faith – really should find some way to address this deep, aching need that some of our brothers and sisters feel.

Planning this service brought home to me many reasons why people might suffer during the holidays.


  • The first one that comes to mind is grief — loss of a loved one or a friend — but it’s not the only reason.
  • Alienation from family or even geographic distance from them can do it.
  • Painful memories of events that happened in the holiday season might be a reason.
  • Some people are experiencing loss of a job or other economic difficulty.
  • Even good things might make the holidays difficult; think about retirement, empty nest, or moving to a new home.

Any big change that affects a strong part of your self-identity might cause loneliness and feelings of isolation.

Even the loss of what might have been can be so painful.

I’m supposed to say something helpful, here, but I don’t want to offer quick fixes or simple tips; What brings healing is going to be distinctive for each person. Still, there are some principles that can help many.

VA centers are using tai chi to promote healing and mental clarity

Chaplain Jonathan Landon.

We may suppress our painful feelings, because we don’t want to burden others, but giving ourselves freedom to acknowledge the pain may be helpful by itself. Concealing those feelings can leave us feeling lonelier, and leaves those who care about us helpless to comfort us. So if you need to cry, then cry. And if you need to be hugged, say that, and let your family members and friends reach out to you and meet your need.

I can’t be so presumptuous as to guarantee it, but if you acknowledge your pain, and people offer space to let it out, and make that giving of mutual support into a time for bonding, maybe you can let the pressure off a little bit. Maybe you can relieve the tension of those who care about you, who are trying to avoid stirring up painful feelings. Then you may just find that there’s some room for laughter, smiles, and enjoyment.

You see, what most of us really need is not the quick fix or the simple solution; it’s caring relationships. One of the key themes of the time leading up to Christmas is the prophecy that foretold the coming of Jesus, giving him the name or title of “Emmanuel”, which means, “God with us.” This Word teaches me that I am never alone in any loss or pain, no matter what my emotions may tell me.

But the message is not only about God being with us; we have the opportunity to show the presence of God to others, by living God’s love in truth and caring for them. Some people came here today because they’re struggling with the holidays. Some people came here because they care about who is struggling with the holidays. Some care because of their faith. Some of them just care because they see a human in pain and they don’t want anyone to suffer alone.

Don’t forget: in the midst of your own pain, you have opportunities to come alongside of others — to be with them, as God is with us.

In this fairly recent tradition, the Blue Christmas service usually happens on or close to the 21st of December, the night of the winter solstice, the longest and darkest night of the year.

It’s an appropriate symbol for a time when many people feel alone, lost and in pain. But that’s not the only meaning of the night of the 21st. Because what happens at sunrise on the morning of the 22nd?

The days begin to get longer. At first, it’s by tiny increments and you hardly notice it, and then it grows faster and faster and you can’t miss it. It’s inevitable. The light returns. That, too is part of the symbolism of this night and this service. The light returns. No matter how long the night will be — or has been — the light returns.

Chaplain Jonathan Landon is the chaplain at the Eugene VA Health Care Center.

This article originally appeared on the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Here are a few ways the ‘storming of Area 51’ could end

If you’ve been on the internet at all for the last few weeks, you’ve probably seen news regarding the Facebook event “Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us.” It started out mostly as a joke – if you couldn’t tell by the name of the group that’s hosting it being called “Sh*tposting cause im in shambles” and the only actual plan set forward is to “Naruto run faster than their bullets.” Even the date of September 20th is a reference to the anniversary of Leeroy Jenkins storming Upper Blackrock Spire by himself in World of Warcraft.

That was until, at the time of writing this article, 1.6 million people clicked “Going,” another 1.2 million are “Interested,” and a four-star general at the Pentagon had to be debriefed by some poor lower-enlisted soldier about the intricacies of a 1997 Japanese manga series about a teenage ninja with a fox demon inside him.

Which begs the question: “But what if it wasn’t a joke?” Well. It’s really circumstantial.


Something tells me that this place will probably undo most of the plans to storm Area 51.

(Screengrab via YouTube)

Absolutely nothing happens

Anyone who’s ever thrown a party using Facebook’s Event page can tell you that not all people are going to show up. Of the supposedly millions that said they’d be willing to attend, I can safely say that it will be nowhere near that number in reality.

In case there are those people that ordered a plane ticket to Nevada and are too stubborn to cancel, it doesn’t look likely either. It’s still going to be a logistical nightmare. The meet-up location at the Area 51 Tourist Attraction is still 72.4 miles from the actual “Area 51.” Unless you drove there or are renting a car, there’s no way in hell anyone is willing to walk that distance in the Nevada desert for a joke.

Everyone gets there, makes a few videos for YouTube, and goes their merry way and this all becomes a funny joke that we reference every now and then. For reference on where this meet up is supposed to happen, the video below is where “millions” of people are supposedly going to congregate. Good luck with that.

VA centers are using tai chi to promote healing and mental clarity

Imagine wanting to raid Area 51 to see all the futuristic alien tech just to come face-to-face with a row of these…

(U.S. Air Force Photo by Airman First Class Lauren Main)

They can, in fact, stop all of them

This possibility is also semi-broken down into ways that it would end in complete failure. The only difference is where the raid is stopped.

My personal guess for most likely scenario on this list is that local law enforcement would probably break up the unlawful gathering outside of a middle-of-nowhere gift shop/brothel long before anyone made a move to storm the actual installation. Given the potential crowd gathering with the sole intent on committing a federal crime, the police will probably be on scene with riot gear ready.

If, by some stretch of the imagination, the raid manages to not get stopped somewhere in the desert or single road onto the installation, they’ll be greeted by armed guards along the way. The defense contractors currently guarding the site would probably have their numbers bolstered from troops at nearby Nellis Air Force Base, Creech Air Force Base, and more.

The same rules of engagement that govern military operations would still likely apply. Violently engaging with a crowd of American citizens would be the absolute final resort if this line in the sand had to be reached. The “cammo dudes” today normally shoo away would-be onlookers without the use of deadly force. Anyone who’s made it this far would more than likely be detained without trouble.

But, you know, the use of deadly force IS authorized for just such an occasion…

VA centers are using tai chi to promote healing and mental clarity

Face it. The Fermi Paradox is real. If intergalactic aliens exist out there, they wouldn’t give a flying f*ck about stopping by Earth. Would you care about stopping by an anthill lifetimes out of your way?

(Image Credit: NASA)

Full and official disclosure (of how boring Groom Lake actually is)

Okay. Let’s finally get this out of the way because the mystery surrounding Area 51 is so enticing that it’s spawned countless conspiracy theories about what actually happens over there. Here goes…

There’s no way in hell that this could work as advertised. No amount of Kyles to punch the drywall out of the fence or Karens to speak to the managers will get you a Banshee from the Halo series. And I hate to break it to the other anime fans out there, but even by the show’s standards, if they’re still are able to casually have a conversation with each other while running at top speeds – they haven’t broken the sound barrier (at 1,125 ft/s.) Most calibers of ammunition probably used by any guard are still much faster.

That doesn’t mean this could all be a waste. Even by some strange miracle they actually do manage not to get turned into paste on first sight, they’d probably be in the exact same boat as if one of the many Freedom of Information Act requests got approved. They’d learn that it’s not that interesting.

It’s officially known as Groom Lake, and it’s just a testing ground far enough away from any civilian interference for top-secret aircraft like the U-2 spy plane and the precursor to the SR-71 Blackbird. Logically speaking, the timelines match up with “suspected” UFO sightings. Through the use of Google Satellite, you can also see countless craters in the ground still leftover from missile testing. The only reason they’re out there is because it’s one of the most remote locations in the continental U.S.The U.S. military is still developing new top-secret aircraft and missiles, and the area is still marked off for that reason. CIA documents released in 2013 showed this.

However, the large crowd outside their gates (or the possibility of a large crowd) could be enough for the government to go on record to say that there’s nothing extraterrestrial going on.

MIGHTY TRENDING

These 17 photos from ‘The Mirror Test’ capture the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in vivid detail

VA centers are using tai chi to promote healing and mental clarity

“Kael Weston’s The Mirror Test is essential reading for anyone seeking to come to terms with our endless wars…. A riveting, on-the- ground look at American policy and its aftermath.” – Phil Klay, author of Redeployment


John Kael Weston spent seven years on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan (2003-2010) as a State Department political advisor to Marine Corps generals. From Sadr City and Fallujah in Iraq to the Khost and Helmand provinces in Afghanistan, Weston was often the only non-military presence alongside our armed forces.

After returning home, he grappled with the aftermath of these wars. How, and when, will they end? How will they be remembered? And how do we memorialize the American, Iraqi and Afghan lives that have been lost and changed by more than a decade and a half of war, while reckoning with the unpopularity of the conflicts themselves?

In “The Mirror Test: America at War in Iraq and Afghanistan” (Knopf, May 24), Weston recounts his travels from Twentynine Palms in California to Iraq and Afghanistan, and to the American hometowns of Marines who fell during his watch. Along the way, he introduces American troops, Iraqi truck drivers, Afghan teachers, imams, mullahs and former Taliban fighters, all while grappling with the larger questions these wars pose.

Hailed as “the conscience of our wars” (Rajiv Chandrasekaran, former Baghdad bureau chief for The Washington Post), Weston weaves together these American, Iraqi and Afghan stories and offers them as a national mirror, asking us to take an unflinching look at these wars and where they leave America today. As he writes, “It’s past time for this kind of shared reckoning … When we look into that mirror, as uncomfortable as it may be, let’s not turn away.”

 

VA centers are using tai chi to promote healing and mental clarity
Cpl. Sharadan Reetz (left), 21, from Indianola, Iowa, and Lance Cpl. Jarrett Hatley, 21, from Millingport, N.C., an assaultman and a dog handler with 3rd Platoon, Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, rest next to Blue, an improvised explosive device detection dog, after clearing compounds with Afghan National Army soldiers during Operation Winter Offensive in Garmsir District, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Jan. 4, 2012. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Reece Lodder)

VA centers are using tai chi to promote healing and mental clarity
Lance Cpl. Tom Morton, a team leader with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment hands an Afghan child a toy during a security patrol in Garmsir District, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Feb. 25, 2012. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Reece Lodder)

VA centers are using tai chi to promote healing and mental clarity
An Afghan boy petitions Lance Cpl. Christopher Bones, a rifleman with India Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment for candy after receiving a water bottle from another Marine during a security patrol in Garmsir District, Helmand province, Afghanistan, April 28, 2012. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Reece Lodder)

VA centers are using tai chi to promote healing and mental clarity
Cpl. Garrett Carnes (in wheelchair), a squad leader with India Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, jokes with Sgt. Kenney Clark (right), a fellow India Co. squad leader, during a motivational run on Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, May 29, 2012. Carnes lost his legs in an improvised explosive device attack Feb. 19, 2012 while supporting combat operations. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Reece Lodder)

VA centers are using tai chi to promote healing and mental clarity
Lance Cpl. Kyle Niro, a scout sniper with the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment places the dog tag of fallen Pfc. Heath D. Warner on a battlefield cross following a memorial run on Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, June 1, 2012. The run was held to honor the sacrifices of 116 men from 3rd Marines who died during combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Warner, a 19-year-old native of Canton, Ohio, died Nov. 22, 2006, while conducting combat operations with 2/3 in Al Anbar province, Iraq. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Reece Lodder)

VA centers are using tai chi to promote healing and mental clarity
Lance Cpl. Phil Schiffman, a mortarman with Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment waves to Afghan men on a motorcycle after searching them at a vehicle checkpoint in Garmsir District, Helmand province, Afghanistan, April 28, 2012. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Reece Lodder)

VA centers are using tai chi to promote healing and mental clarity
A Marine Corps mortuary affairs team using a grappling hook to ensure dead bodies are not booby-trapped, Fallujah. (Photo courtesy of J. Kael Weston)

VA centers are using tai chi to promote healing and mental clarity
Marines scanning the irises of Fallujans returning to the city after Operation Al Fajr (New Dawn). (Photo courtesy of J. Kael Weston, the Mirror Test)

VA centers are using tai chi to promote healing and mental clarity
Fallujah city center during Operation Al Fajr (New Dawn). (Photo courtesy of J. Kael Weston)

VA centers are using tai chi to promote healing and mental clarity
Marines paying displaced civilians $200 as they return to Fallujah. (Photo courtesy of J. Kael Weston)

VA centers are using tai chi to promote healing and mental clarity
Dilawar of Yakubi. (Photo courtesy of J. Kael Weston)

VA centers are using tai chi to promote healing and mental clarity
Kuchi (nomad) children along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. (Photo courtesy of J. Kael Weston)

VA centers are using tai chi to promote healing and mental clarity
PRT project, near Pakistan border, Khost. (Photo courtesy of J. Kael Weston)

VA centers are using tai chi to promote healing and mental clarity
Memorial for 31 Angels, Anbar, February 2, 2005. (Photo courtesy of J. Kael Weston)

VA centers are using tai chi to promote healing and mental clarity

U.S. KIA, Fallujah, 2006–2007. (Photo courtesy of J. Kael Weston)

 

 

VA centers are using tai chi to promote healing and mental clarity
Gravesite of Brian D. Bland, KIA, Newcastle, Wyoming. (Photo courtesy of J. Kael Weston)

VA centers are using tai chi to promote healing and mental clarity
Family home of Nick Palmer, KIA, Leadville, Colorado. (Photo courtesy of J. Kael Weston)

See more about “The Mirror Test: America at War in Iraq and Afghanistan” here.

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